Sometimes the student is the professor. When I work with the clever women in treatment at Sanford House, I am always open to their input and suggestions. After all, experience is the best teacher and they’ve had firsthand knowledge of the exigencies of addiction.
We have been talking about emotional triggers recently. A “trigger” is an event that gives an individual the perceived justification to return to addictive behavior. Triggers can be internal, such as the feeling of loneliness. Triggers can also come from external sources, like pushing your grocery cart into the wine isle by mistake at the Piggly Wiggly.
Every once in a while, the yen for an addictive substance will pop up out of nowhere. Even when you think you are prepared for every eventuality. Those yens lessen over time, but they can be acute in early recovery. So it bodes discussing and planning responses to cravings, before they occur.
Together, the women and I made a list of all the things that might cause a ripple in our resolve. In other words, a relapse. Some of the items on the list were personal. But many of the things we listed were common to everyone.
We put the universals on the board, and talked about what we could do to block triggers before they caused us harm. Kind of a “Stop! Drop! And Roll”, but without setting the designer duds on fire. Remember – the longer you are sober, the easier it is to incorporate some of these activities back into your life. In early recovery, avoidance is often the best response, but creating a new reward to replace the “false reward” of alcohol or other drugs works as well. Here’s what we came up with – we hope it helps.
Universal Relapse Triggers and What to Do:
- Summer Vacation and Boating – For many, summer vacation and boating equals drinking. The answer to this trigger is – water. Keep your glass filled with water, put plenty of bottled water in the cooler. Jump in the lake. Soak your head! But be honest with yourself. If you are planning a vacation with people who drink, you may want to cancel…
- Alone Time – You hear in on Ted Talks and in AA meetings; when it comes to long term recovery, community is key. Be accountable to as many people and activities as you can schedule. Get out of the house.
- Sporting Events/Tailgating – In early recovery, this might be one thing to avoid all together – especially tailgating. If you hosted these events, pass the torch. If you decide to go to the game or watch on TV, arrive for the kickoff and leave as soon as the game is over.
- Parties, Special Occasions and Holidays – Arrive early and leave early. BYO mocktails.
- Accusations and Arguments – There will be a period of time when your loved ones do not trust you. They might smell your breath or ask you where you’ve been. There might even be lingering anger about why you used in the first place. Do not bite. Anger is an ugly emotion and a big trigger to relapse. Say calmly, “This is not helping me.”
Half Way There…
- Family and Children – Think about it – family pushes all your buttons. They’re the people you want to impress.They know you best, and think they know what’s best for you. But this is your recovery. Protect yourself. If it means limiting family exposure or family drama for a period of time, so be it. Children are resilient – tell them to “let go of the hem of Mommy’s garment…”
- Open Bottles and Pill Bottles – There is no excuse for having open bottles of alcohol or pills in the house of the newly recovered. Why tempt fate? If friends bring alcohol to your home, ask them to take the remains with them. A family member’s prescribed pain killers should be locked up. If you give a party with alcohol, send the leftovers away or pour it out immediately!
- Sex (Before, During, After) – Oh boy. A lot of people use alcohol or drugs as an aphrodisiac. Most newly sober people feel inhibited in social situations and the bedroom. There is often a clear eyed reevaluation of sexual partners. It takes time, but it’s kind of like riding a bike. N‘est-ce pas?
- Familiar Places (Streets, Liquor Store, Grocery Store) – This one is tough. If the street corner where you bought your drugs is near work and you have to pass it every day, take the scenic route. Do not ever go into your local liquor store again and when grocery shopping, be mindful of the wall of wine on Isle 17. This is another one of the stressors that gets less intense with the passage of time. In the early days, avoid those places you associate with buying your drug of choice.
- Changing Seasons – You can’t stop the seasons from changing. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real “thing” and like all the above, it is best to take stock of your feelings when it hits. Then get outside in the fresh air and go for a walk!
In general, when a craving hits, you should acknowledge it and make some noise. Pick up the phone and call a sober friend, get thee to a meeting, but do not suffer in silence or think you should handle it on your own. In early recovery, you are learning to ask for help. You are opening up and reclaiming your feelings. The best thing to do is listen to your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right for your recovery, it probably isn’t.
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